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The Word on the Street

(Tom Ryan)
By Jan Gardner
October 9, 2011

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Tom Ryan, founding editor of The Undertoad newspaper in Newburyport, and his miniature schnauzer Atticus M. Finch (named for the hero in “To Kill a Mockingbird’’) make molehills out of mountains. The pair climbed hundreds of rugged miles, lumbering on through snowstorms and sub-zero temperatures.

Though Ryan fell short of his goal to climb all 48 4,000-foot peaks in the White Mountains twice during a single winter, he and Atticus forged a deep bond and raised thousands of dollars for the Jimmy Fund, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, and Angell Animal Medical Centers.

In Ryan’s “Following Atticus: Forty-Eight High Peaks, One Little Dog, and an Extraordinary Friendship’’ (Morrow), the two face a number of medical emergencies. Ryan praises the veterinarians and doctors who helped them while making it clear that it was actually Atticus who saved his life.

Women wield editor’s pens Is it a course correction or merely a coincidence? No matter, the guest editors of this year’s “The Best American Short Stories’’ and its younger siblings in the annual series represent a marked departure from last year’s roster.

When Houghton Mifflin Harcourt hired men as guest editors for all eight anthologies in its 2010 Best American series, some female writers and editors cried foul. This year the publisher tapped highly acclaimed female authors to guest edit six of the volumes: the insatiably curious Mary Roach (science and nature writing), Mickey Mantle biographer Jane Leavy (sports writing), MacArthur genius grantee Edwidge Danticat (essays), the hilarious Sloane Crosley (travel writing), the groundbreaking memoirist Alison Bechdel (comics), and, last but not least, Pulitzer Prize winner Geraldine Brooks (short stories).

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt isn’t alone in the business of year’s best series (Scribner’s does poetry, HarperCollins science writing, and Da Capo puts out food and music writing anthologies) but the Boston-based publisher has been at it the longest. What makes the annual installment of “Best American Short Stories’’ exciting is not the contributors you know - Joyce Carol Oates, for instance, in this year’s edition - but the ones you may not, such as Vermont writer Megan Mayhew Bergman whose touching story is inhabited by a parrot who mimics the voice of the narrator’s dead mother. Bergman’s debut collection, “Birds of a Lesser Paradise,’’ will be published in March.

Series editor Heidi Pitlor will moderate a discussion between local contributors Bret Anthony Johnston and Allegra Goodman at 7 p.m. Oct. 25 at Porter Square Books, Cambridge.

Print on demand In an age of instant gratification, score one for forward-thinking brick-and-mortar stores. Starting in November, Paulo Coelho’s “The Alchemist,’’ Dennis Lehane’s “Mystic River,’’ and thousands of other HarperCollins books will never be out of stock at Harvard Book Store in Cambridge, the Northshire Bookstore in Manchester Center, Vt., and other shops with an Espresso Book Machine because they will be able to print and bind trade paperbacks from the HarperCollins backlist on the spot in a matter of minutes.

Coming out

■ “Political Evil: What It Is and How to Combat It’’ by Alan Wolfe (Knopf)

■ “Columbus and the Quest for Jerusalem’’ by Carol Delaney (Free Press)

■ “The Back Chamber’’ by Donald Hall (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Pick of the Week

Ellen Burns of Books on the Common in Ridgefield, Conn., recommends “The Forgotten Waltz’’ by Anne Enright (Norton): “This is a beautifully written drama of passionate love and desire. In a Dublin suburb, Gina Moynihan remembers meeting the love of her life, a married man with a young daughter.’’

Jan Gardner can be reached at JanLGardner@yahoo.com.